Home > Opposite of Always(2)

Opposite of Always(2)
Justin A. Reynolds

“Kid, listen to me, talk to me! I think he’s having a seizure. Kid! Kid!”

Oh yeah, lesson number two:

Time travel hurts.

The Beginning Beginning

The Experience of Having Zero Experiences

People love to say, “There’s someone for everyone.”

It’s one of those “feel better” things your mom tells you after your relationship has crashed and burned, or your normally noncommunicative dad mumbles as he slaps you between your shoulder blades, then announces “good talk.” But it’s mostly true. If you consider how many people are walking around this planet, there has to be someone you could fit perfectly with, right? The person who makes your heart say super-crazy things like “I’ll love you forever” and “I can’t wait to meet your parents” and “Oh, sure, let’s definitely get each other’s names tattooed on our necks.” The problem is we spend most of our puny lives chasing someone else’s someone, and, if we’re lucky, we end up with only a third of the time we could’ve spent with the person truly meant for us. That is, if we don’t wind up missing them altogether.

Take me, for instance.

I’m an expert on just missing out—on the girl of my dreams, on class valedictorian, on making it onto any sort of sports team. (I’ve tried them all. In one desperate moment I auditioned for mascot. Turns out “Hairy” Larry Koviak executes a far superior somersault.) And the extracurricular clubs? Yep, tried those, too, only to narrowly miss the cut. Which is funny because I’d always thought that anyone could just join a school club (add that to the Things Jack Has Been Utterly and Unequivocally Wrong About list). Point is, you name it, I’ve found a way to miss my chance, often by the slimmest of margins. By now I’m an authority on Almost, with nearly eighteen years of working experience on my résumé.

Need more proof, just walk with me through our attic. It’s a virtual shrine to Nice Try, or as I like to call it, “Jack’s Stupefying Museum of Almost Was but Never Will Be.” There’s a skateboard in mint condition, from the summer that I almost became a semipro skateboarder. There’s a sewing machine that I used to tell everyone was my mom’s but was actually mine from that time I was really into Project Runway for a few seasons. There’s the Frisbee golf set, the antique marble collection, a crate full of tiny unfinished circuits, a box with every Super Nintendo game ever created, a coffin-size container that was my first (and only) attempt at a time machine (don’t ask!), and a never-used set of noncollectible ninja stars (seriously, don’t ask!).

Almost, almost, almost, almost, almo—

You get it.

I joke that my parents were prophets when they named me Jack Ellison King.

Jack of all. King of none.

Except my mom’s always reminding me that I was named for Jackie Robinson, who broke through the pro sports color barrier, and Ralph Ellison, writer and scholar, best known for his seminal work Invisible Man.

I’m an only child. My parents had me rather late in life, after trying hard for years, and, well, just as they’d abandoned all hope—I swam along. Mom wanted to name me Miracle, but Dad (not usually the voice of reason, but willing to make an exception here) intervened—is it your dream to have Miracle get his ass kicked every day, honey?

And so Jackie Ellison it was.

Which I can’t help but think is a prime example of the Best and Worst of Parenting.

Because on one hand, it’s awesome knowing that my namesakes were these incredible men. An honor. A privilege.

But on the flip side, it’s possible that my parents did not comprehend the ridiculous amount of PRESSURE they were placing upon my freakishly narrow shoulders.

So, yeah, there’s that, too.

Anyway.

I’m Jack King. The guy sporting a five o’clock shadow and an old flannel jacket at a party full of people, sitting near the bottom of the living room stairs, holding an empty glass, semiwatching a basketball game playing on the TV, but mostly staring out into the kitchen, looking at—

It’s always the same girl.

Jillian.

When we signed up for this college visit, I pictured Jillian and me finally getting time alone. That we’d spend the weekend together and she’d at long last see just how (sorta) charming and (semi-) cool and (relatively) interesting I was. That I’m more than just Friendship Material Jack, you know?

But instead, I’ve been sitting here for thirty minutes, alone, although in fairness, I’m not completely alone; there are quite a few people who keep bumping into me walking up and down the stairs. I swear I’m not normally this awkward, this antisocial.

Let me explain.

A Brief History of Strong Like

Jillian and I are best friends. We met freshman year in high school, literally bumping into each other (how horribly cliché, right?), our backpacks spilling their guts all over the hallway. I helped her gather her books and we avoided that whole bumping-heads thing as we stood up, only for idiot me to step on her backpack strap and send her crashing back onto her ass. If there was an embarrassment gun, we’d bypassed Stun and switched right to Kill. A few kids paused to gawk and laugh, and there I was, rapid-firing apology after apology Jillian’s way.

But she’d simply hopped to her feet, barked at our spectators to “keep it moving,” and introduced herself.

“Jack and Jill,” I said, putting it together.

“Ha.” She smiled. “Guess this was meant to be.”

“Sorry I didn’t come tumbling after.” I was far too giddy with my clever reply only to realize hours later that it was actually Jill who tumbled after Jack.

But Jillian didn’t seem vexed by my mistake. “We can always try again,” she said. Her smile upping its wattage, she added, “The tumbling part, that is.”

I knew then we had a chance at something amazing. But in keeping with my long-standing theme of almost, we had neither. Which is to say, three weeks later Jillian had a boyfriend.

Now maybe you’re thinking—who cares if she has a boyfriend, Jack? Tell her how you feel. Let her decide. Except the whole I have a boyfriend thing seemed an impregnable defense. I’m talking snipers on the roof, motion-activated lasers, trained attack dinosaurs, and a moat boiling with molten lava—impenetrable.

Because, major plot twist: Jillian’s boyfriend, Francisco “Franny” Hogan, is my other best friend.

I know, I know.

And I wish I could tell you this is a story about a horrible boyfriend (Franny) who doesn’t appreciate what he’s got, who treats his girlfriend (Jillian) like crap, who doesn’t deserve her. Or that he’d viciously stabbed me in the back going after the girl of my heart. Except Franny didn’t even know I liked her.

The truth is, Franny’s a good guy—hell, a great guy. Were I to pick someone other than myself to be with Jillian—like if Jillian and I were together and were playing that game where you pick one of your friends to take your place in the event of your untimely demise—I’d pick Franny for Jillian, every time. He’d take care of her. He’d love her. (That’s sort of a sick game, right? Let’s not play that again.)

Anyway, they’re a couple. An awesome couple. And I’m happy for them. I would never consider doing anything to jeopardize their relationship. No, I’m here for the Jillian-Franny love connection. The ultimate third wheel, the undervalued eleventh toe, the superfluous third nipple.

Until tonight.

Possibly.

Maybe.

Probably not.

Never.

The Thing About Stairs Is That They’re Up and Down

“Excuse me, man, but you’re sort of damming up the steps,” a voice behind me says.

“What?” I swivel around.

It’s a girl with bright eyes and shoulder-length curly hair. She’s wearing one of those sweater-dress things—except I think it’s just an oversize sweater that she’s cinched around her waist with a skinny belt. I recognize her from earlier, our student center tour guide.

“You’re blocking the stairs. You’re a very proficient human dam.”

“Sorry,” I mumble.

I scoot over and she applauds. “Oooh, he’s a motorized dam. Brilliant.”

“Surprise, surprise,” I say.

I wait for her to complete her trek down the stairs, but she doesn’t move. “If you like her so much, you should try talking to her.”

“Huh?”

“I hear that talking to people usually alerts them to our existence. You know, as opposed to just staring at them like a deranged serial killer.”

“As opposed to a nonderanged serial killer,” I say over my shoulder.

She snaps her fingers. “Bingo.”

I frown. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Of course, I know exactly what she’s talking about, but I’m offended that I’m so transparent.

“You were clinging to her during the entire tour, man.”

“I was?”

“Dude, you reached barnacle status.”

“Gee, thanks.”

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